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Best 2 Week France trip for the first timer

I'm planning a 2 week trip to France and other than a few days in Paris, am unsure what other regions I should include. Last summer I did Rick's "Best 3 Week Germany-Austria Trip by Car" and would prefer something more focused for France, less driving time. I'm thinking of Paris-Burgundy-Provence or Paris-Burgundy-Loire. Any suggestions? Is the French Riviera worth it? I'm not much into the jet setting nightlife :o) Any helpful information would be greatly appreciated. Also, Cassis looks like a great city - anyone been there? Should I spend any length of time there? Thanks!!!

Posted by
9110 posts

Burgundy, Provence, Normandy, the Loire, and to a lesser extent Champagne, are full of tourists (usually american) who go there because they've heard of them and can pronounce the name of the place. (Don't get me wrong, I really like Provence but only go there in the winter. It's full of neat towns and has a lot of scenery.) Burgundy is rolling hills covered with vinyards and sunflower fields -- boring after a while and like Champagne, is full of people wanting to "see the wine stuff". Normandy is great, even if you'r not interested in the D-day stuff, but, again, only when the crowds are gone. The Loire is big house after big house -- if you've seen the Hearst place, you've already seen one.

Go some place different. If you've been to Brittany and seen Carnac, you'll never bother to go to stonehenge. Go to the Perigord and stuff yourself on duck. Go see the prehistoric stuff around the Lot and Dordogne rivers. Study up on Figeac, Rocamadour, Albi, Carcassone, and all the places in between.

You won't find too many folks that speak english, but don't worry about it. I speak french about as well as I speak english, but when traveling with people that don't, I make them handle the hotel, resaurant, grocery store, gas station, etc. We do just fine.

Ugh to the riviera.

Have fun. It's a great country.

Posted by
417 posts

I would do Paris, Burgundy, Provence. In two weeks you wil be able to see the essential sights, not feel too rushed, and be able to enjoy the good life a little!

The French Riveria is fantastic, but I am like you and not much into "the scene" so prefer other areas. Plus, if you are from California (I'm in Florida) there is no need to visit a French beach, we both have great ones much closer.

I would go for Provence over Loire, personally. It's different from other area of France and just gorgeous. To save on drive time, consider taking the train from Paris to Arles (just past Avignon), and then use the car to return by way of Burgundy.

Posted by
1286 posts

For your first time, I'd do a week in Paris and a week in Provence. I'd save Burgundy, the Loire Valley, and the French Riviera, all worth seeing, for another trip. You can easily spend a week in Paris, or you could include a couple of day trips or an overnight to Normandy. And a week in Provence is very easy to do. I agree that taking a train to Arles or Avignon makes sense. I loved Cassis, a very pretty town on the Med, and I highly recommend a visit. Rick's Paris and Provence books should help you plan your time.

Posted by
31465 posts

collette,

You could also have a look at the Paris and the South of France 15-day tour. It's a great way to cover a lot of France in a very efficient way. I took that tour in May / June and it was awesome!

Posted by
1525 posts

I think the key issue here is your hope to have less time in transit. I know very well that once you consider going to a country the hardest thing to do, by far, is to say no to any part of it. You want to see it all - who wouldn't.

Our family visited France for the first time last summer and spent 30 days there. We didn't see every area, but we saw quite a lot - doing roughly a clockwise circle around the country. In only two weeks many things will have to go, even if you wanted to be on the move a lot. If you don't, then you really have to narrow things down to Paris plus one or two other destinations.

I would make Paris a home base for a full week, using 2-3 of those days for day-trips out of the city to Versailles, Giverny, Chartres, Fontainbleau (sp?), etc (see the Rick Steves Paris book for specifics. All of these are easy day trips and in some cases can be done 2 in one day by making a triange route by train. But having Paris as a home base will be psychologically settling - giving you a chance to do a morning or evening neighborhood walk even on days when you've been day-tripping.

Then I would spend a week in EITHER Provence or the Dordogne river area. Train there and then rent a car for the week because everything is very rural and easy to drive. Pick a small town you like with an attractive accomodation for the week and do day-trips to wherever you want within an hour+ drive of your place. There is plenty to see and do. Provence offers more to keep you busy with Avignon, Arles, Marseille, and the beach. But The Dordogne is less touristy, more casual & relaxing and every bit as historically interesting with so many small quaint castles and chateau you could literally walk from one to the other. In fact, in the Dordogne, you could actually day-trip by bicycle if you are energetic.

It will be tempting to go more places, but I wouldn't. You will remember these sights more clearly by focusing on them. If you absolutely must see more, stay 3 weeks

Posted by
4125 posts

I'm trying to think what I could add to this already excellent advice.

Paris-Burgundy-Provence would be a great two-week itinerary. Sure, tourists flock to these places, but they are popular for a reason.

The Dordogne is really special, and you could make the case for Paris-Loire-Dordogne, with a return flight from Toulouse.

There's a lot of driving implied with such an itinerary, though, and it sounds as though that is a concern.

On the other hand, I'd recommend a car, or a bicycle, in Burgundy and Provence, too. Also, a car will get you off the beaten track--which is really quite narrow--in a hurry, if you want to leave it.

Steve, who clearly does wish he were in Europe, has identified some great destinations, but way too many of them for two weeks.

Another straightforward two-week itinerary is Paris-Normandy-Loire, maybe with some time in Brittany. Again, a car is very helpful.

I think you get the most diverse and interesting combination with Paris-Burgundy-Provence, though, perhaps stopping in Lyon. It really depends on your priorities.

Have a really great trip!

Posted by
689 posts

Paris for a week and either Provence or Dordogne for a week. (If your 2 weeks includes travel time, you'll really only have 12 days). You can TGV to Provence, or near to Dordogne (via Libourne). Then you can pick up a car in either place. Avoid summer--these places are very popular summer vacation destinations.

Posted by
409 posts

We just did a two-week trip after debating long and hard about what to see and what to miss (this time around). We were very happy with our choices and in retrospect wouldn't change a thing:

Paris - 3 nights; on the 4th day, took train to Versailles. Toured Versailles, then rented a car there and relocated to Giverny (one night). Saw Monet's Garden the next morning, then drove to Normandy (Le Hommet d'Arthenay near St. Lo) after spending a few hours walking around Honfleur. Spent 2 nights in Normandy, doing an all-day D-Day beaches tour. Upon departure, drove to Mont St. Michel, then on to the Loire Valley (3 nights). Then on to Provence for 5 nights, before traveling on to Nice (one night), from where we flew home.

Hope this gives you some ideas. PM me if you have any questions or would like ideas on places to stay.

Posted by
1525 posts

(...continued from my 5:22 post...)

One option if you don't want to deal with a tricky "open-jaw" itinerary, is to split Paris into two stays - beginning & end of the trip - and put either the Dordogne or Provence in the middle. This way you can fly both in & out of Paris without an awkward train trip consecutive with a flight; you can avoid ODing on the urban-ness of Paris and it lends itself well to staying in two different neighborhoods in Paris - perhaps one stay near the Eiffel Tower & Rue Cler and one stay closer to Notre Dame & the Louvre, which is nice since the two areas are a couple of miles apart from each other.

Expanding upon that idea, if you were willing to endure one long drive, you could do this; (1) Land in Paris & spend three days near Notre Dame, (2) train to Avignon & see the Pope's Palace, then rent your car & drive a short distance out of town to whatever cute village you choose for 4 days, (3) Drive to the Dordogne River valley (5-6 easy but boring hours on the motorway which you can break up nicely with a few hours at the clothing-optional beach at Pataval-les-Flots along the way), spend three days here chilling out seeing all the cute villages & castles along the river, then (4) drop the car & train back to Paris for the final 3 days staying near the Eiffel Tower.

If you are limited to two weeks off work, remember that that's 16 days with all three weekends, so you can squeeze an extra day or two in if you want.

You CAN visit in the summer - we did, and we were not overwealmed by other tourists. But DO NOT go in August. Provence is too hot & all the French are on vacation plugging things up even more than usual, and Paris is dead.

email me if you wand even more detail/suggestions...

Posted by
403 posts

Colette: You have gotten lots of good advice, but to add my two cents worth--
I agree with Steve about finishing in Paris rather than beginning. It's not that the Parisians are rude--an old stereotype--but Paris is a great city like New York, crowded, busy, intense. I don't know how you are at handling jet-lag, but I personally find that the first day in Europe is good for little more than walking around in a daze. Here is my suggestion:
Fly into Nice, spending the arrival day and day 2. Nice has much more than beaches...it has great wood-fired pizza, excellent museums, and a lively, fun atmosphere. And lying on a sunny beach is not a bad way to spend the afternoon you arrive. Day 3, take the TGV to Avignon and pick up a rental car. Base yourself in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, a lovely little Provencal town with a small river bubbling through it, and see Avignon, Pont-du-Gard, Arles, and little towns from day 3 through 9. Day 10, return the car and take the TGV from Avignon 2+ hours to Paris. If you want to break your Paris stay with a day-trip to the Loire, that is entirely possible (see Rick's book for suggestions). Fly home out of Paris.
France is such a great destination...and yes, August is probably not ideal, but any time of any year is wonderful IMO. Have a great time!

Posted by
12875 posts

Collete,

Must say you're going to be one lucky and happy traveler in France for 2 weeks. I hope you do have 2 full weeks.

I would divide it up between seeing Paris and its environs (Versailles, Fontainebleau, and Vaux-le-Vicomte), Alsace-Lorraine especially STRASBOURG and an afternoon in Obernai, then either Normandie or
northern France, especially AMIENS on the Somme and Lille.

SKIP Provence, Lyon and the Rhone, and Burgundy. Skip Avignon and the Riviera. They can be on your second trip.

Depending on your interests you could spend the entire two weeks just in Paris and the day trips within an hour and a quarter to the south, the east, and northeast of Paris. The towns very worth it are REIMS, FONTAINEBLEAU, VERSAILLES, SOISSONS, NOYON, COMPIEGNE, and PIERREFONDS. They're all simply amazing!!

From Paris Est to Strasbourg is 2 and quarter hrs. with the TGV. Eastern France is unique in and of itself in culture and cuisine. The best beer in France is here, and it's my second favourite area in France, not including Paris.

If you have a car, northern France or Normandie is going to be easily accessible, especially getting out to the smaller towns there, such as CAEN in Normandie and the coastal towns; if you're pressed by time, go to northern France and save Normandie for next time. Happy Travels!

Posted by
524 posts

Collette
To plot out your trip itinerary, take a calendar and put in your proposed itinerary, making sure that you research the travel times (train/car/etc.)including the time it takes to get to and from the train or plane. Your last day is also almost always just a travel day back to the US. Also know how you function after an overnight plane flight with little sleep. So your first day could be a go, go, go day or a what I call, A Recovery Day. After this task, you have a really good idea of the time you have available to really see your destinations.

I am a travel consultant and my clients are always surprised as we go over their proposed itinerary, how much travel time their trip entails. And thn we cut at least one destination. Also, unless my clients are insistent, I work with them to plan at least 2 nights in each location.

Also, I advise you to not rent a car in town or at the airport in Paris. Take a train to a smaller town where it is easier to get your bearings. As you probably know from your Germany trip, it is really hard to figure out the the road signage and routes in huge cities. Also the gas is soooo expensive now.

If you think you are going to be going back to France, then I would choose for this trip, Paris 6 nights (including a day in Versailles), Burgundy or and Saltzburg Alscace Lorraine area. This keeps all of your travel in one area. Then another time, do Provence, a southwest province, and maybe the Loire.

Good Luck! It is soooo hard to choose but you want to be effiecient with your time.

Bobbie

Posted by
8271 posts

Lots of great advice but I disagree that Paris is "crowded, busy, intense". As cities go, I find it quite the opposite. Paris is mellow compared to San Francisco, where you and I live close to. I also disagree that Burgundy is "boring". We loved it and couldn't get enough of it. We don't drink wine but that doesn't matter, there is so much to see and do there. We spent 4 nights in Beaune and were very sad to leave.

Posted by
18 posts

Thank you all SO MUCH for the great information! I have a lot to think about in planning my itinerary...

Posted by
8763 posts

You have received a lot of good advice. I have been to Paris twice, but I have not (yet) gone to other areas in France. I LOVE Paris. If you can handle S.F., Paris is a piece of cake! Our first trip we were there for 5 days. I would say that should be the minimum length of time there, unless you just don't have that much time. Our second trip was for 10 days. We still have not done everything there is to do. I don't remember seeing when you plan to go, but one of the great pleasures for me in Paris is sitting at a sidewalk cafe and walking the streets people watching.

VERY IMPORTANT TO KNOW -
In no circumstances should you try to drive there. I still have nightmares from 3 years ago. And I have been driving in S.F. since I was 16 years old ( a very long time ago!).

Have a fantastic trip!!!

Posted by
82 posts

I've lived in both Burgundy (9 months) and Provence (semester abroad) and adored both of them. I never noticed an overabundance of tourists in Burgundy, but that could be because I was always traveling outside of Burgundy during the touristy times of year. They are definitely there in Provence all the time, though, especially in Avignon where I studied (for obvious reasons)!

For me, the must-sees in Burgundy are Dijon and Beaune. There's also a small town called Nuit-Saint-Georges which is reachable by train and it's supposed to be nice, but I never had the chance to go.

In Provence there are tons of great places: Avignon, Carcassonne nearby, Pont du Gard...

bon voyage!